Commentary Search

So, you want to ride a bike

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jason Wolf
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Safety Chief
Maybe it's the sound of the wind rushing past your ears Maybe it's the sense of freedom you feel when you realize it's just you, your machine, and the beautiful Florida scenery. Maybe you like saving on gas and reducing your carbon footprint. Or maybe it's the shared experiences you get when you head out with other riders or put that special someone on the back of your bike. 

Whatever your reason for riding, it's important to gear up with the proper safety equipment before you take that bicycle out of the garage. Hold on, you say? Did you think I was talking about motorcycles? We'll get to that in a minute! For now, let's talk about bicycles. 

Like most of you, I've been riding a bicycle for the better part of my life, and each time I get on one, it's like...well, it's like riding a bike. But before you put down this article, let me ask you to consider some facts which will make you think harder about the simple ct of dusting off that two-wheeled aluminum machine and riding to the local library, down the street in the neighborhood with your kids, or around the base for your morning workout: 

1) Although car-bike collisions are a small proportion of all bicycle crashes (15%), they are the largest cause of fatal bicycle crashes. 

2) Most car-bike collisions (80%) occur when either the cyclist or motorist is turning or crossing, usually at an intersection or driveway. 

3) Bicyclists are less likely to be seen: the frontal area for bicyclists is about 1/5 of a car, and half that of a motorcycle. 

4) Head, collarbone, hip, wrist and arm injuries are the most common in an accident. 

5) Helmets reduce head injuries by 70%. 

Many bicycle riders don't know the rules of the road, and are therefore exposing themselves to greater risk than they should. In my previous assignment I joined a cycling club and learned a great deal from other, more experienced riders. They taught me about taking care of your equipment, checking for loose parts and effective brakes and shifters at ground speed zero, and being a good wingman in a riding group. They also taught me a few mitigation techniques to the previously mentioned hazards of bike riding: 

1) Ride when and where traffic is not heavy, and favor roads with wide lanes or marked bike lanes. 

2) Don't assume you'll be seen: Florida law requires a front white light, and rear red light at night, I suggest you use them both night and day. 

3) Wear bright/reflective or contrasting colors, and join with other riders to increase your visibility. 

4) Treat yourself like a car, and follow the same rules they do; a recent California study found that the relative risk to those riding against traffic (the wrong way) was 3.6 times higher than those riding with traffic! 

5) Treat every other vehicle on the road as a potential threat, and be prepared to alter our course quickly, as they can be unpredictable. 

If you follow these guidelines, and abide by the biking laws of this great state of Florida (http://gccfla. org/laws.html), I think you'll find cycling to be all you remembered it was - a great workout and a great way to see the countryside, with minimal impact to your joints and body. 

Now, let's turn our attention to those disappointed readers in the opening paragraph...Motorcycle Riders. You are our target audience as we talk about Ground and Traffic Safety, you are one of our 3 main points as we enter the 101 Critical Days of Summer campaign, and you are our most frequent customer in the 6 AMW Safety Office. You are the largest at-risk group in the Air Force for traffic fatalities or injuries: 5 times more likely to be injured or killed than in a car. Finally, you are our fellow Airmen, who we care a great deal about. 

So if motorcycles are so risky, why do we ride them? I've heard some say we should prohibit Airmen from riding motorcycles. Some would recommend we only allow them to be ridden off base. Some feel they have no place on our public roadways. Although statistics confirm motorcycles are a more dangerous form of transportation, I do not think that increased legislation is the answer. 

An educated, properly clothed motorcycle rider is a safer rider on our country's roads. An educated automobile driver is a safer companion on those same roads - less likely to pull out in front of a motorcycle or follow too closely. An educated base population can make a difference in reducing the motorcycle accident rate. 

A Back-to-Basics approach to motorcycle riding can help keep us safe. Riders, protect yourself by wearing Proper Protective Equipment (PPE). Much like the Warnings and Cautions in checklists are written in blood, the DOD PPE requirements are based on past accidents. 

Wear a good helmet, full-fingered gloves, eye protection, long-sleeved shirt/jacket and pants. Know your bike and its limitations, and don't exceed them, even for an instant. Respect your experience level and your limitations. Take safety courses, at regular intervals. As traffic threats change, so does technology and riding technique. You'll be glad you spent the time and money to increase your awareness and ability on our streets. 

For those of us who don't ride, we can also take a Back-to-Basics approach to reducing motorcycle accidents. Scan well as you drive, and slow down. Look specifically for motorcycles the next time you leave an intersection, change lanes, or approach a stoplight. Adjust your mirrors (consider affixing convex mirrors to your existing ones) so you can see smaller traffic in your vehicle's blind spots. Take extra time and pay more attention as you transit areas where you've seen bikers in the past, and give them added room on our streets - they are more vulnerable to your mistakes and at times ntimidated by your close proximity. 

For further information, contact your unit motorcycle safety rep - or visit the 6 AMW/SE Sharepoint site for guidance and applicable regulations. 

In closing, let me urge you to be safe in all you do, as we focus on our Back-to-Basics pproach in the upcoming 101 Critical Days of Summer campaign. I suggest that the next time you head out on the open road, with any mode of transportation, be a good wingman, and share it!